Every NHL season, there is great debate about which conference is superior, the Eastern or Western.
Since inter-conference play, in its current format began in 2005, the Western Conference has held a sizeable margin in total wins.
For many, the win total by each conference, in inter-conference play, has been the decisive factor in ranking the conferences.
In this lockout-shortened season, it is more challenging to determine this, as teams from the opposing conferences will not meet until the Stanley Cup Finals later this spring.
While that will settle which particular team is stronger than the other, it will not necessarily prove which conference is superior to the other.
Based on the following three factors, I believe there has been a shift, and that the Eastern Conference is stronger than the Western Conference.
1. Stronger Teams are in the East
While it is difficult to go solely by points, I think most observers, and most power rankings from respected sources bear this out, the Top Five teams in the league this year have been the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks.
Those teams have exchanged positions from week to week, but those five have emerged as the best in the NHL. Three of those teams are Eastern Conference teams and its difficult to go against this kind of consensus.
2. More Top Players in the East
Each conference has superstars, but the top players, particularly among forwards, are in the Eastern Conference.
The NHL scoring lead is one place to look, and going into Thursday night’s play, only eight of the Top 25 scorers were from the Western Conference.
While the Western Conference’s Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar are three of the top all-around players in the league, it is difficult to argue against the Eastern Conference’s Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos as the three top players in the league over the past few seasons.
3. Weak Teams in Both Conferences
Finally, both conferences have comparatively weak teams with no concentration of such teams in one conference.
For the past few weeks, the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche have been the bottom two Western Conference teams and the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers have been the two weakest teams in the Eastern Conference.
While all teams have had some injuries, I think it can be argued that both Florida and Philadelphia have been hit particularly hard in this lockout-shortened season.
In other words, both of these teams would have been considerably stronger without the number of injuries they have suffered.
For these three key reasons, the Eastern Conference is the stronger conference in 2013.